iana Ross had a lot to live up to with her first single as a solo artist. As lead singer of the Supremes, she had amassed an incredible total of 12 number one singles (more than anyone except the Beatles and Elvis Presley), starting with "Where Did Our Love Go" in 1964 and ending with "Someday We'll Be Together" in 1969.
Even if they didn't feel it in their hearts, Diana and the new Supremes were competitors, as far as the public was concerned. Fans of Diana Ross and the Supremes were anxious to see who would have the biggest hits, and who would go to number one first -- if anyone.
In that summer of '69, Berry Gordy turned to an outside producer, Bones Howe, to produce Diana's first solo album. Bones had been at the helm of number one singles for the Association ("Windy") and the Fifth Dimension ("Aquarius/Let the Sunshine In"). He suggested Diana be treated as "the black Barbra Streisand," and produced four tracks for her, including Laura Nyro's "Stoney End" and "Time and Love," songs that Streisand would record herself the following year.
Before Howe could complete the LP, he was dropped from the project and Motown staffers Ashford and Simpson were asked to produce Diana's first solo album. Among their song selections were two hits they had written for Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell, "You're All I Need to Get By" and "Ain't No Mountain High Enough."
The latter was Marvin and Tammi's first chart entry in 1967, and had peaked at 19. Nick wrote the lyric when he first moved to New York. Walking down a Manhattan thoroughfare, he was determined that New York City would not get the best of him, and the words "Ain't No Mountain High Enough" popped into his head. He quickly called Valerie and they finished the song in a short time.
For Diana Ross, they came up with a completely new concept for the song. "We thought Diana had such an interesting speaking voice," Valerie explains. "We though it was very sexy and wanted to incorporate that into the production."
"Ain't No Mountain High Enough" was altered from a boy-girl duet to a long narrative with a rousing, exalting climax that featured Valerie's gospel backing vocals. "We felt the slow build worked well, and by not singing the actual chorus until the very end, we thought it added drama and suspense."
Ashford and Simpson were excited when they delivered the finished master to Berry Gordy. "We presented it to him and he wanted to change the whole thing around, and start with the chorus and forget all the slow build and drama, just to get to the point. We had to fight him on that because he really wanted to change it." They prevailed, and their final version of "Ain't No Mountain High Enough" was exactly six minutes long, far too long for a single release.
On first listening to the Diana Ross album, it was impossible not to be captivated by the startling arrangement of "Ain't No Mountain High Enough." As Motown had not provided an edited version, radio stations around the country made their own edits and added the album cut to their playlists. Whether Gordy originally intended to release "Ain't No Mountain High Enough" as Diana's second single will never be known, because heavy airplay forced Motown to edit the song down to three minutes and 15 seconds and issue it as a 45.
"Ain't No Mountain High Enough" entered the Hot 100 on August 8, 1970, at number 70. Six weeks later it knocked "War" out of number one, only the third time in the rock era that one Motown song had displaced another at the top of the chart (previously accomplished by The Four Tops' "I Can't Help Myself" and Gaye's "I Heard It Through the Grapevine").
- Fred Bronson, The Billboard Book of Number One Hits, Billboard, 1988.
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